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Rumoured layoffs spark campaign

Vusich, Clift and Penny’s names were mentioned by the KSU because “they are the only three sessionals for the combined honours programs. They’re the easiest to identify.”

[box type= “info”] This story has been edited for clarity [/box]

Friday in the Wardroom students put their pens to paper as part of a letter-writing campaign to save the jobs of three sessional professors. King’s Student Union President Michaela Sam said students approached the union after hearing three contract professors would not be hired again.

The Watch spoke with King’s Vice-President Kim Kierans. She said the rumours are false. At the faculty meeting Tuesday, certain faculty members said things like “the sessionals are going to have to go,” said Kierans. “Now, again, that has been taken (incorrectly) to mean that they are going.”

The KSU started the campaign after hearing from students that Jannette Vusich, Sarah Clift and Laura Penny were potentially going to lose their jobs.
“The letter writing is a call to the university’s administration to value the student voice,” said Sam. “Students have come together to say these three professors, who are very loved at this institution, are a part of what they value.”
This Facebook event started it all:

The university has come up with two reports on how to improve the college’s finances. Kierans says King’s is forecasting a cash shortfall between $1.1 million and $1.5 million in the next fiscal year. The school started this year with a $1.1-million deficit, which has since been reduced by selling a house owned by the school. All departments have also had across the board cuts. Further ways to reduce the deficit have been proposed in a recent task force study.
“Everything is on the table. How do you cut $1.5 million from a $20-million budget? It has to be a college consensus,” Kierans said.
Vusich, Clift and Penny’s names were mentioned by the KSU because “they are the only three sessionals for the combined honours programs. They’re the easiest to identify,” Kierans said.
Kierans says there is “no basis in evidence” to suggest they will be cut.  “In the end, it’s the board who decides. Nobody has received notice.”
She has encouraged students and alumni to continue sending letters about the school’s finances.
The Watch has tried to reach the three professors named, but with this happening so quickly, have not yet heard back.
Many students gathered in the Wardroom to write letters and speak up on behalf of the professors facing cuts.

The setup in the Wardroom on Friday. (Photo: Elizabeth Whitten)

“I’m basically just angry,” said King’s student Zoe Brimacombe. She said King’s has many other options besides cutting these positions. “They’ve not even considered taking more out of the endowment.”
Georgia Atkin was running out of space with her letter. She’d also heard about the rumoured cuts through the KSU Facebook group. Through the last year Atkin said she’s “heard a lot about budget problems King’s was having. But I don’t think they should get rid of teaching faculty.”
She’s had lectures by all three professors and defends them. “I think they’re strong and interesting.”
Rach Klein was more vocal, saying, “I really want to love it here, but the ongoing inability of the board (of governors) to have the students’ best interest at heart is making this impossible. This has been an ongoing battle — getting the student voice heard — and is now being culminated by the letting go of our most beloved and talented staff.”
The KSU is still accepting letters to send directly to President George Cooper, including from alumni.
The KSU posted on the event page:

“To everyone who wrote a letter today – in Halifax and across the country, current students, alumni, and even some newly accepted high school students – thank you.
We just delivered one hundred and fifteen letters in person to King’s President George Cooper. This event is not over, and we will continue to accept letters over the weekend (and beyond), to be delivered on Monday. Letters can be slipped under the door of the KSU office or emailed to president@ksu.ca.
As we continue to discuss this issue, it is important to remember that nothing has been set in stone. We have been told by the administration that “everything is on the table”. The University is desperately looking for ways to solve its financial problems, and one option, of many that have been explored, is cuts.
But cuts are not the only solution. The administration needs to work with students to restore funding that has been being cut from public institutions for decades.

Budgets are about priorities, and the University is putting a number of options on the table that will have the most severe consequences for those in precarious work situations and for students. The administration is asking that students and faculty bear the brunt of our financial deficit.
The administration must consider students’ needs and priorities as central in determining how to overcome the University’s challenges.
This letter-writing is a call to the University administration to value the student voice.”

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

3 replies on “Rumoured layoffs spark campaign”

Good story. It might be interesting to compare the salaries of the three sessional instructors with those of the tenured profs wanting to fire them. Some of the tenured profs at King’s make over $140,000 a year. The sessionals earn about $5,000 course. Greed is a powerful thing.

Thank you for this article.
To clarify, the Union never referred to this situation as set in stone, and made a point of explaining that it was one of many options being explored. As the article illustrates, our materials in the Wardroom all referred to “rumours” and encouraged students to consider the idea of “possible” cuts.
This issue is part of a much larger conversation that is ongoing. As the Watch notes, quoting Michaela Sam, “The letter writing is a call to the university’s administration to value the student voice”. We sincerely appreciate all of the discussion that the letters have generated, and hope that everyone continues to engage with this issue in the days and weeks to come.

The situation isn’t set in stone, but the KSU gladly uses
the three names to get the student body riled up. Why educate the student body
when you can use them?
It might make more sense to get more information about the board, the budget,
how they make decisions, and historical precedent to give students a fuller
picture of how the board sees the options in front of them. When you can actually
work with their concerns, which may not be as monolithic as the current
narrative suggests, you can use the different voices to better understand where
their arguments come from. Make clear where the board may have institutional
insights that students do not have. A better understanding of the board and the
constraints they face will create stronger critiques than “the
administration is dumb”. It doesn’t make sense to argue for a student
voice that can’t seem to articulate any more than the idea that cuts are bad. Value judgements may seem justified, but often fail to even broach the details that
can allow for creative solutions.
King’s has to raise revenues or cut costs to deal with the fiscal shortfall.
Reaching out to students who haven’t been “retained” would be a
start. As for the CFS, lobbying for $$$ would be more effective if they knew more of
how NS Legislature functions (they do more than fund education – how many MLAs
are in regular contact with CFS-NS?), started making contacts outside of
labour unions, and would stop holding onto campaigns that don’t get results (Education is a Right). It be nice to see the KSU/CFS take
partial responsibility (they’re hardly new in town) for where we find ourselves.

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